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Looks like Downtown Vancouver is getting another separated cycling lane. The Hornby lane will connect the separated bike lanes on the Burrard Bridge to the separated bike lane on Dunsmuir. Once this is complete, the last piece in the puzzle will be the Helmcken-Comox Greenway, which planing should start on next year.

I went to the information session at the Pacific Centre to ask a few questions and lend my support to the Hornby bike lane, and ended up in a 20-minute debate with a guy who kept repeating the same lame arguments I’ve heard before. He also insisted on calling me a “militant cyclist”, which I found amusing. I’m willing to be labelled a dedicated cyclist, an enthusiastic cyclist, or even a hard-core cyclist (although compared to most cyclists I know I’m not very hard-core). But militant? I don’t think I’ve blown up enough SUVs to deserve the ‘militant’ label.

Here are the most common arguments I hear against cycling debunked. They’re all used as justification for not investing in cycling infrastructure, and especially for preserving road space dedicated to cars. The guy I was arguing with tried to use all of them at various points in the conversation.

  1. Hardly anyone cycles. Why are we spending money on such a small minority? – The best statistics on cycling come from the long-form census (the same one the Conservatives are scrapping). In 2006, 3.7% of commuting trips in Vancouver were by bike. In the neighbourhoods bordering downtown it is around 10%. Not an insignificant number, but nowhere near the target of 10% city-wide set by a previous city council many years ago. The best way to get more people on bikes is to build infrastructure to make cycling safer.
  2. The cycling infrastructure we have is good enough. There are already bike lanes downtown, we don’t need separated bike lanes. – Sadly, the separated bike lanes are not for cyclists like me. I will use and appreciate them, but I already cycle and will continue to do so, even with modest infrastructure we currently have. If the city wants to get to 10% cycling mode-share it needs to attract people who are currently afraid of cycling downtown. That’s why the separated cycling lanes are so important, they make it possible for people who are unwilling to battle with cars to get to work by bike. If you build it, they will bike.
  3. Converting car lanes to bike lanes will result in traffic gridlock. All that congestion is bad for the environment. – I love it when people who spend their days sitting in traffic pretend to worry about the environment, when really they just want to get home faster. As we’ve seen with the the Burrard Bridge and Dunsmuir, it is possible to take away car space without causing gridlock. If gridlock is really a problem, we should consider congestion pricing, but it is hardly a problem in Vancouver. The number of car trips into the downtown has been steadily declining over the past decade, while cycling, walking ,and public transit is on the rise.
  4. Police should crack down on cyclists who flaunt the rules. They don’t wear helmets and they don’t stop at stop signs. – If you want to be a stickler for the rules, I’d guess that the average car commuter breaks at least one law every time they drive to work (rolling through stop signs, speeding, etc). It’s easy to find cars breaking the law. That’s no reason not to build roads. If we refused to fund highways because of speeding, there wouldn’t be a single highway in Canada. The worst cycling rule-breakers are the road warriors and bike couriers – people who currently dominate downtown cyclists and get a high out of getting around as fast as possible, regardless of the danger. As cycling infrastructure improves, and more business people, children, and families start biking I’m confident the pace will decrease and you’ll see more civilized bikers.
  5. Cyclists should be insured/licensed to ride on the roads. – This argument usually takes one of two forms. For licensing, it is to provide accountability and ensure cyclists follow the rules. For insurance, it is to have cyclists pay more because cars need insurance. But cars need insurance because of the huge damage they can cause when accidents happen, not really an issue with bikes. As for licensing, some cities have tried with no success. Momentum has a good summary of the bike licensing debate. I just want to add that in Vancouver bike couriers are actually licensed and they’re the worst cyclists on the road, so I’m not sure licensing would accomplish anything.
  6. Cyclists should be forced to pay a road tax because they don’t pay gas taxes. – Cycling saves the government money – mostly because bikes take up less space and cause less wear. Cyclists may not pay gas taxes, but the majority of transportation projects are payed for by property taxes that everyone pays. And infrastructure for cars costs way more then bike infrastructure. “Engineering staff figure, on a very rough estimate, that the overall allocation of city transportation infrastructure is about two per cent for cyclists, 20 per cent for pedestrians and 78 per cent for cars.” – Cyclists are not freeloaders (Vancouver Sun). For years, the only infrastructure cyclists got was paint and signs (pretty cheap stuff). The separated bike lanes are not cheap, but to put the costs into perspective: the Dunsmuir bike lane cost about $1 million to install, while a left turn lane at Knight and Clark cost $3.7 million.

The interesting thing about the cycling debate is it has little impact on the politics here. The opponents who are the most angry are suburb commuters and they don’t vote for our city council. And even if they did, every political party in Vancouver supports the bike lanes, and has for the past 20 years. So opponents can rant and rave all they want, they’re only spinning their tires.